5 Ways to Have Better Work Life Balance
-Angela Borders and Joe Borders, MFT
-July 18, 2018
Times are changing, in many ways, and one of the biggest changes that can put stress on ourselves and our relationships is a problem that has always existed but which looks a little different in this cultural and technological moment: work life balance. In a time when we can be accessible 24/7 via cell phones/computers/social media/and apps, and the gig economy is pushing us to have 2, 3, even 4 or more different jobs, it is increasingly difficult for many to strike a balance between our work lives, home lives, and relationships. Below are 5 specific strategies that can help restore that balance and give you more peace of mind in life.
This one is just simple math. Spend your money more wisely/cut back on unnecessary spending, and you won’t need to work as many hours to make that cold hard cash. Of COURSE this is not applicable to all people—many already are stretched as thin as they can be and are not wasting a cent, but for lots of people, this can be a game changer. Taking time to sleep on even small purchases, staying away from unnecessary sales, promotions, or online shopping apps, planning out monthly or weekly budgets, and cutting back on specific expenses (ie, meal planning rather than eating out, exercising at home rather than having a gym membership, making changes that are manageable and appropriate to you and your needs, whatever they may be) can make a huge difference.
4: Track Progress
Think back to your elementary or childhood days of gold stars and sticker charts. That good feeling we get when seeing a visual reward for effort is still a tool we can harness in adulthood. Keeping lists, planners, or charts (whiteboards can be great for this) lets us feel that satisfaction of completion, and helps us keep track of all the things we need to get done—both in work, and in life.
There is a lot of research and commentary on why writing lists is so helpful, but it boils down to three reasons: 1: writing out a list of goals/tasks helps you to remember them and lets you free up brain space to focus on other things rather than having to remember those tasks, 2: the process of writing out those things helps you to clarify and assess exactly what you need to do, and 3: being able to check off items gives a clear, visual way to see your progress and accomplishments.
So do yourself a favor, and write down the work you need to do, in broken down steps if needed, and check things off as you complete them. The structure can be simple like a post it note list, or complex like multiple lists on devices, calendars, or white boards, but have some system that works for you. This takes away the burden of thinking about all the things you have to do and moves them from a nebulous cloud of worry into a more manageable and concrete series of steps that you can check when needed and not have nagging you at all times.
3: Take time to reflect—See and Savor Your Success, and Assess Mindfully what Changes may be Needed
This one goes pretty hand in hand with number 4 up there. Whether it’s through writing lists, or talking with a friend, journaling, or just taking time out to be mindful, one of the best ways to have better work life balance is to stop and reflect and take an honest and kind look at the work we are doing, and life we are leading. Think about the goals you want to reach, both in your work life, and your personal life, and answer this question honestly: “what did I do today to work towards that goal?”
Some days the answer may be something small. Some days it may be that you did things that actually set back that goal, and that is OK. Every day has unique challenges, but taking time, even just for 5 minutes out of the day, or one morning a week to truly reflect on what we are or are not accomplishing, is important. Far too often, people get caught in the trap of just going through the motions and don’t realize for months at a time that they are falling out of whack when it comes to work life balance. This may be ok for a short while, even necessary at times, but if we continue it for too long, we inevitably start to suffer. So take some time to think about what’s working and what’s not, and what specific steps you can take to improve if you’re feeling unhappy or too stressed (consider the suggestions in this list!).
This one is a MUST—hence why it is so high up in the countdown here. Now, more than ever, it is so hard for many of us to unplug and have downtime that is 100% disconnected from work. Whether it’s checking e-mails, texting coworkers, checking social media, or just bringing our work home with us, many of us have a hard time carving out time in our day that is work free. This can be really tough, especially for people who have high pressure jobs or jobs that require a lot of at-home work (like teachers lesson planning and grading or therapists completing clinical notes). And then there are also those who work from home and/or telecommute!
So, obviously how these boundaries get set and what the actual structure looks like is going to vary, but being intentional and setting specific boundaries, especially when it comes to activities with those we love can go such a long way towards improving work life balance. A few examples might be agreeing not to check e-mail/use electronics during dinner, making sure to get home/ to bed by a certain time every night (as much as possible), agreeing that there are times when work has to come first but setting aside time to recoup that missed time. Above all else though, this means checking in with yourself and those you care about regarding how and where work life is creeping in too heavily to other times that it shouldn’t be.
1: Set Aside Time, Even If it Has to Be a Ways Off
This is the number one best way we handle work overload stress: knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Plan a vacation, or even just a day off, a lunch with friends, or a movie. Make sure that somewhere, in the not too distant future, a break is coming. This can go a long way both for your own sense of relief and sanity, and for maintaining relationships that are under a lot of strain in times of work overload. Knowing that yes, right now things are crazy, but in ____ weeks/days/hours, we will have rest really really helps. And what a great reward that time is once you finally get it. Just be sure to KEEP planning those breaks/rewards so as to not fall back into losing sight of things.
We hope these suggestions are helpful, and wish us all a calm and restful summer!
If you or someone you know struggles with work life balance, stress, or anxiety, consider contacting one of our therapists who specialize in stress, anxiety, and career counseling. Therapy can help process these issues and help the client find individualized solutions and confidence.